When the province announces the next phase of its pandemic reopening plan, it should give priority to fully vaccinated people when easing restrictions.
Doing so would serve two purposes: allow for the safe reopening of some indoor places and provide a powerful incentive for people to get immunized. Both are critical objectives at this point in the pandemic.
It’s been two weeks — a full incubation period — since Manitoba eased public-health restrictions under the province’s summer reopening plan. As expected, the modest changes did not reverse the trend of declining COVID-19 case numbers or hospitalizations. The combination of strict measures and growing vaccination rates drove down infections and hospital admissions.
It has been a month since a COVID-19 patient was airlifted out of the province for treatment.
The province needs to do two things: boost immunization take–up and prevent unvaccinated people from spreading their droplets, particularly indoors, where the virus is more easily transmitted.
For that reason, the province says it plans to ease restrictions earlier than planned, likely next week. That’s good news.
The biggest challenge now is getting vaccination rates to a level that will allow the economy to reopen permanently. There’s no point lifting restrictions if they have to be reinstated again. Doing so would just mean more avoidable illness and death.
That is a real possibility if too many unvaccinated people are allowed to congregate, especially with the more contagious delta variant in circulation.
The province needs to do two things: boost immunization take-up and prevent unvaccinated people from spreading their droplets, particularly indoors, where the virus is more easily transmitted.
What better way to do that than to give priority to fully immunized people when lifting restrictions?
Manitoba’s vaccination rates over the past month have been stellar. However, the fact remains that this province — and the rest of Canada — are still below levels most experts say need to be reached to return to normal life.
Almost 76 per cent of Manitobans over the age of 12 have at least one dose of the vaccine and 55 per cent have two. The take-up for Manitobans over age 60 is even better: more than 90 per cent have received at least one dose and more than 80 per cent of them have a second. People over 60, the highest risk group, are well protected.
But those under 40 still have a long way to go. Only two-thirds of people in their 20s and 30s have at least one dose. Of those who do, fewer than two-thirds have a second. That leaves a lot of young people unprotected.
The province could allow indoor household visits for people with two shots. That might be difficult to enforce, but it would be similar to challenges around previous household–visit rules.
Only 47 per cent of Manitobans aged 10 to 19 have at least one dose (that’s how the province presents that age cohort, even though the vaccines aren’t available to children under the age of 12 at this point) and 39 per cent of them are fully immunized. Younger people are at a lower risk of severe illness from COVID-19, but they can still spread the virus.
Most experts say well over 80 per cent of people age 12 and up require both shots for life to return to normal. The real number is probably closer to 85 or 90 per cent.
The problem is, the rate at which Manitobans are getting vaccinated has slowed over the past week. The percentage of people with at least one dose is growing by only a quarter of a percentage point a day. Even the take-up for second doses has dropped off in July. It needs a kick-start.
Giving fully immunized Manitobans more freedoms may be the best way to do that. The province could allow indoor household visits for people with two shots. That might be difficult to enforce, but it would be similar to challenges around previous household-visit rules.
The province could reopen places such as movie theatres, museums, art galleries and casinos to fully vaccinated people. Those rules already apply in some settings, including large-scale sporting events and indoor dining where people don’t reside together. Expanding it would allow businesses and not-for-profits to reopen safely, while encouraging more people to get vaccinated. It would kill two birds with one stone.
The longer it takes to fully immunize more than 80 per cent of eligible Manitobans, the greater the risk of a significant fourth wave.
The province should use every carrot and stick it has to avoid that.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.
Quebec COVID-19 hospitalizations rising as new variants gaining ground
MONTREAL — Quebec is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations driven by new Omicron subvariants that account for about 75 per cent of infections, the province’s public health director said Wednesday.
Dr. Luc Boileau said the subvariants, such as BA2.12.1, BA.5 and BA.4, appear to be more transmissible than previous strains but not necessarily more severe. The rise in cases was “expected,” though it came earlier than authorities had thought, he said, adding that the number of new infections should continue to rise in the coming days or weeks before declining.
Boileau said the province doesn’t plan on reimposing any broad-level public health restrictions, but he recommended that people who are over 65 or medically vulnerable take precautions such as wearing a mask. He was firm in his advice against a new provincewide masking order, insisting that such a measure was not “realistic” or necessary at this point.
“We’re not at all on a path to reimpose population-level measures such as mask-wearing, or other measures that needed to be taken in the last two years,” he said.
“We’re not there, and we’re not heading in that direction with the current variants.”
He said people who are over the age of 60, who are immunocompromised or who have chronic illnesses should seek a second booster shot if they haven’t had one or if their last shot was more than three months ago. As well, he said those who want to wear masks should be “encouraged” to do so, especially in crowded places.
His update came as COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by 34 in the previous 24 hours, after a 113-patient rise the day before. There were 1,260 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Quebec, including 35 in intensive care. Health officials also reported four more deaths associated with the novel coronavirus.
Dr. Don Vinh of the McGill University Health Centre says Quebec is facing a “perfect storm” of factors that include the emergence of new variants, waning immunity from vaccination or previous infection, and the removal of public health restrictions.
The new Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, he said in an interview Tuesday, appear to be gaining ground and finding vulnerable people to infect, especially since the mutations seem to be better able to evade immunity compared with previous strains.
“You put the two together, the new variants and waning immunity from either infection, immunization or a hybrid, and what happens is you have a renewed pool of susceptible people with an emerging variant,” he said.
The rise in hospitalizations, he added, comes at a time when the health system is least prepared to handle it.
Hospital workers at “all levels” are overwhelmed, he said, from paramedics and ambulance drivers to ER staff and the community and home care workers who need to be present to care for frail people leaving hospital.
COVID-19 is also putting increased pressure on the system by forcing sick health-care workers to stay home at a time when they’re most needed, he said. “This a catastrophic, systemic failure being unmasked and perhaps even exacerbated by unmitigated community transmission.”
On Wednesday, Boileau said he was concerned with the impact the increase in cases will have on the system, adding that authorities were working with hospitals to readjust services when necessary. He said, however, that he didn’t expect the new rise in cases to get “very, very high” and that the numbers should begin to decline in the next few weeks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
Canada extends COVID-19 border measures until Sept. 30, including ArriveCan app
OTTAWA — The federal government will extend current COVID-19 public health measures for travellers entering Canada, including the use of the ArriveCan app, until at least Sept. 30.
In a release Wednesday, the Public Health Agency of Canada also said it will continue the pause of mandatory random testing for fully vaccinated travellers at all airports until mid-July.
It first announced the pause on June 11 and said in the release that it’s allowing airports to focus on streamlining their operations.
The public health agency said it’s moving forward with plans to relocate COVID-19 testing for air travellers outside of airports to select test provider stores, pharmacies or by virtual appointment.
Mandatory random testing is to continue at land border points of entry with no changes.
The release added that travellers who are not fully vaccinated and don’t have a valid exemption must continue to test on Day 1 and Day 8 of their 14-day quarantine.
“As we move into the next phase of our COVID-19 response, it is important to remember that the pandemic is not over. We must continue to do all that we can to keep ourselves and others safe from the virus,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos in a statement.
He also urged people to remain up to date with the recommended vaccinations to ensure they are adequately protected against infection, transmission and severe complications.
“As we have said all along, Canada’s border measures will remain flexible and adaptable, guided by science and prudence.”
All travellers will have to continue to use the ArriveCan app or website to provide their travel information within 72 hours before their arrival in Canada or before boarding a cruise ship destined for the country. The government said 95 per cent of land and air travellers are using the app and it’s taking steps to enhance compliance.
The government also said moving testing outside of airports will allow Canada to adjust to increased traveller volumes while still being able to monitor and quickly respond to new variants of concern or changes to the epidemiological situation.
It said border testing has been essential in helping Canada slow the spread of the virus, as data from the tests are used to understand the current level and trends of importation of COVID-19 into the country.
The testing program also allows for detection and identification of new COVID-19 variants of concern, it said.
Tourism groups and border-community mayors and MPs have called on the government to ease restrictions and scrap the ArriveCan app, saying the measures are limiting cross-border travel.
Transport Minister Randy Boissonnault said the government is deeply invested in growing Canada’s visitor economy.
“From our reputation as a safe travel destination to our world-class attractions and wide-open spaces, Canada has it all and we are ready to welcome back domestic and international tourists, while prioritizing their safety and well-being.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Western researchers use MRI to learn cause of long-COVID symptoms – BlackburnNews.com
Western researchers use MRI to learn cause of long-COVID symptoms
June 29, 2022 7:30am
A study led by researchers at Western University has revealed the cause of long-COVID symptoms.
New data published by Western professor Grace Parraga and the LIVECOVIDFREE study, based out of five centres in Ontario, is the largest MRI study of patients with long-COVID. The term long-COVID refers to symptoms of brain fog, breathlessness, fatigue and feeling limited while doing everyday things, often lasting weeks and months post-infection.
This is the first study to show a potential cause of long-COVID, which has helped physicians in the study target treatment for the patients.
“I think it is always a conundrum when someone has symptoms, but you can’t identify the problem,” said Parraga, a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Lung Imaging to Transform Outcomes at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. “If you can’t identify the problem, you can’t identify solutions.”
By using MRI imaging with inhaled xenon gas, researchers have identified that the symptoms are caused by microscopic abnormalities that affect how oxygen is exchanged from the lungs to the red blood cells.
Researchers used the technology to watch the function of the 300-500 million tiny alveolar sacs, which are about 1/5 of a millimetre in diameter and responsible for bringing oxygen to the blood.
“What we saw on the MRI was that the transition of the oxygen into the red blood cells was depressed in these symptomatic patients who had had COVID-19, compared to healthy volunteers,” Parraga said.
Further CT scans pointed to ‘abnormal trimming’ of the vascular tree, which indicated an impact on the tiny blood vessels that deliver red blood cells to the alveoli to be oxygenated.
Parraga said the study showed no difference in severity between patients who were hospitalized with COVID-19 and those who recovered without hospitalization. She said this is an important finding as the latest wave of COVID-19 has affected many people who did not receive hospital-based care.
To conduct the study, researchers recruited patients suspected to be suffering from long-COVID from London Health Sciences Centre’s Urgent COVID-19 Care Clinic and St. Joseph’s Health Care London’s Post-Acute COVID-19 Program. Some participants experienced persistent shortness of breath more than six weeks post-infection, while others were still symptomatic after 35 weeks.
One of the participants is Alex Kopacz, a London-native and Canadian Olympic bobsleigh gold-medalist, who called his experience with COVID-19 “harrowing” and believed the virus would not affect him long-term as he is a young athlete.
“I was on oxygen for almost two months after COVID, and it took me almost three months to get to a place where I could go for a walk without gasping for air,” Kopacz said. “The take home message for me is that we have to remember that this virus can have very serious long-term consequences, which are not trivial.”
Researchers are now conducting a one-year follow-up to better understand these results.
The study was done in collaboration with researchers outside of London at Lakehead University, McMaster University, Toronto Metropolitan University and Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.
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